Heading into the annual Winter Meetings in Orlando, general manager Larry Beinfest and his staff will aggressively search to strengthen an area that has plagued the franchise the past few years.
Obtaining experienced relievers, along with a capable center fielder, remain atop the team's shopping list in Orlando.
The Marlins provided some remedy to the bullpen recently by swinging two separate trades on Nov. 20. Florida acquired relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom from the Mets for left-handers Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick. The second trade brought in Kevin Gregg from the Angels for right-hander Chris Resop.
Immediately, Owens and Lindstrom fit into the closer mix, along with returning lefty Taylor Tankersley. Gregg, who has the most big-league experience of the three, is a choice for the seventh-inning role, as well as being a choice for long relief.
The aim of Beinfest is to provide as many seasoned relievers as possible to follow up one of the youngest and most promising rotations in the league. In a surprising 2006 season, the Marlins boasted five starters with 10 or more wins for the first time in franchise history.
Headlining the rotation is lefty Dontrelle Willis, who turns 25 in January. Joining Willis are four rookies who combined to make big-league history of their own. Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez became the first rookie foursome to post double-digit victories.
The Marlins have high hopes for their young rotation, and want to make sure the team is confident handing close games over to the bullpen in 2007.
"We'd like to cultivate some experience," Beinfest said. "We'd like to define roles now rather than have them just pitch into roles. We'd like to have depth out there."
Entering last Spring Training, the team didn't know what to expect. The roster was loaded with rookies, and the Marlins emerged into their respective roles as the season started. A couple of examples were Johnson and Nolasco. Both started off in the bullpen but were inserted into the rotation in May. About that time, the team started improving, although the bullpen lost two quality arms.
Now those young starters have a year in the big leagues under their belt. And with an abundance of talented arms in their farm system, the Marlins aren't short of pitching depth. What they hope to avoid is throwing untested arms into difficult spots like setting up and closing.
Center field is another area of interest.
To address that need, the team is contemplating if it should part with any of its talented arms, either in the Minor Leagues or at the big-league level. Considering they already have four starters who will be making the league minimum salary, along with having low service time, parting with any of those four is remote. If the Marlins did move one of their rookie starters for a center fielder, they again would create a hole in their rotation.
Plus, the organization continues to put a premium on starting pitching, and since that is their strength, they are expected to hold the foursome of Johnson, Olsen, Nolasco and Sanchez together for a while.
Because of payroll constraints, the Marlins aren't in the market for a pricey veteran center fielder. So they are being more crafty regarding their options. They have a number of intriguing Minor League pitchers, and prospects like shortstop Robert Andino, who could be used as trade bait.
Generally speaking, Beinfest doesn't forecast many major changes to the everyday lineup from last season. Center field would be the one area.
"Given where we're looking at our [payroll] allocation, I think we're comfortable with the lineup," Beinfest said. "We set the club record for home runs . We had a number of guys with 20-plus home runs or they were on the cusp of it. When we look at the lineup, it was pretty balanced. We had a little speed at the top. We had some right [handed-hitting] and left [handed-hitting]. It was pretty balanced."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.